Some of my most enjoyable golf weekends have been shared with my younger brother, and my weekend at Philadelphia Cricket Club with him and our friend Tyler was no exception. Although the weekend included almost 72 holes of golf, the cherry on top was the round at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course. My expectations were very high, having read about the extremely successful course renovation and having heard sterling reviews after the 2015 PGA Professional National Championship (PNC) in July.
Philadelphia Cricket Club is the nation’s oldest country club, having started in 1854. Although cricket was the main focus of the club at its founding, the club steadily became an important pillar in US golf. The Cricket Club was one of the founding members of the Philadelphia Golf Association, along with Merion, Aronimink, and Philadelphia Country Club. A.W. Tillinghast built the Wissahickon Course in 1922. At the time he was a world-famous architect and part of the “Philadelphia School” of golf course architecture, which included names such as George Crump (Pine Valley), William Flynn (Shinnecock, The Country Club, etc.), and George Thomas (LA Country Club, Riviera, etc.) in addition to others. Philly Cricket Club was Tillinghast and Thomas’ home golf club… pretty nice bragging rights!
Entire articles have been dedicated to the restoration of the Wissahickon Course and it deserves much more mention than this small paragraph. Keith Foster did the restoration work, which was extensive to say the least. Much of the work was done referencing old aerial photographs taken in the early days of the course. The photographs showed many fewer trees, more open vistas, different bunkering, and larger greens among other things. The course was taken back to raw dirt during the restoration… after its completion, the restoration work has been considered brilliant. To read more about the individual points of change, I suggest this great article on the restoration from Jay Flemma.
Our round at the Wissahickon course came after rounds at Philly Cricket’s Militia Hill and St Martin’s Courses. Both of those seemed like delicious appetizers leading up to the entree at Wissahickon. After playing our round we had drinks in the locker room, dinner in the clubhouse, and then headed back out in the evening light to walk a few more holes. There couldn’t have been a better way to round off the weekend!
The opening tee shot takes place right in front of a large patio on the clubhouse. It was added during the restoration and knowing members are watching adds some pressure to the uphill, dogleg right tee shot! The green slopes heavily back to front with a back right tier.
The 2nd was a hole that stuck in my mind after watching the PNC. The downhill tee shot runs out into a creek at 310 yards, leaving an uphill wedge into the green. The tenth green sits right behind the second, creating an intimidation visual with “shared” bunkers and slopes.
This short par 3 was completely redesigned during the restoration. Danger is very present at this short Tillinghast par 3 with deep bunkers surrounding the long, but narrow green.
Hole #4 – 487 yards (par 4)This long par 4 lays out the challenge right before your eyes… it’s up to you to mess it up somewhere along the way! Look for the mirrored similarities between this hole and the 7th.
Looking back at pre-restoration photos, this longer par 3 was once surrounded by trees. The hole now closely matches the original and the sloping putting surface means a green in regulation is no guarantee of par. This hole was an example of large trees hurting turf conditions by blocking out vital sunlight.
This hole was the one I anticipated the most at Philly Cricket. It features on lists of the best 1000 holes in the world, and it sits up very well to my eye. The banking down the right is an old abandoned Reading Railroad track, which I also find to be reminiscent of Scottish courses such as Prestwick and Dundonald. Don’t you want to just sit on this tee box all day and enjoy the view? Now, look at the photo below of the 6th hole pre-renovation in 2004! (Thank you to Cyrus Janssen from www.expatgolfpro.com for sending in the photo!)
The 7th hole was another that changed during the renovation. That massive bunkered area seen in the photo above is the “Great Hazard.” The large shaggy bunkered hazard is something Tillinghast used at some of his other designs, including Bethpage Black. It is impossible to not draw parallels to Hell’s Half Acre at Pine Valley, where Tillinghast and other Philadelphia School architects offered plenty of input.
This short hole plays slightly longer working back uphill. Those who don’t factor in the elevation change can end up in that massive front bunker.
The infinity green feature at the 10th hole combines with the men’s locker room in the background to intimidate the golfer. The green is much larger than it appears, but from the tee it feels like you’re hitting at a tiny sliver.
Keen eyed golfers will have already eyed up this hole from the third tee. During the restoration the club buried a golf ball magnet deep within the lefthand bunker, explaining why I was unable to avoid it.
The tee shot on this hole is great, but I particularly loved the green complex. The bunkering will catch any wayward shots, but there is plenty of room on the putting surface to accept well struck approaches.
I wanted to play this hole over and over again after putting out… A tree on the right hand side of the fairway narrows what seems to be an incredibly wide fairway. The bunkering around the green was restored with the renovation and it makes for one of the best approaches on the course. The green plays like a version of a Redan, with balls kicking left from the middle of the green.
Would you believe that the 15th is the 18 handicap hole? With the wind during our round it played close to 240 yards… definitely not the easiest on the course! The green has some serious slope working back to front and right to left.
The 15th green spilling directly onto the 16th tee reminds me of something from the St Andrews Old Course. The view is beautiful from this raised tee box and the hole is an excellent example of Tillinghast using the terrain to create a genuinely interesting hole.
Hole #18 – 469 yards I had been mapping out the 18th hole all weekend in my head. We had enjoyed lunch twice on the clubhouse patio, meaning that I had watched quite a few groups play the hole. There is a creek about 50 yards from the green, which creates a hazard for those hoping to lay up. The creek runs across the hole and into the Wissahickon River. A.W. Tillinghast requested that his ashes be spread on the creek so that he could “be where he loved life the most.”
There have been a handful of golfing experiences that have blown expectations out of the water. Philadelphia Cricket Club was one such experience. I left thinking, “Wow… If I get to come back here I’ll be very lucky.” In addition to having great golf courses, the clubhouse, history, and people add up to something that can’t be replicated elsewhere.